Ready or Not, Here Comes Cal Petersen, the LA Kings Heir Apparent in Goal

EL SEGUNDO, CA — The hockey gods sure seem to have it in for the Los Angeles Kings this season. Indeed, they have gotten off to a horrendous start with the worst record in the National Hockey League and one would be hard pressed to identify any positive sign indicating that significant improvement is coming anytime soon.

Even worse for the Kings—maybe this is the hockey gods idea of a cruel joke—with superstar goaltender Jonathan Quick already out of the lineup with a torn meniscus in his knee, backup goaltender Jack Campbell suffered the same injury against the Calgary Flames on November 11 and will require surgery that will keep him out of the lineup four-to-six weeks.

As a result, Peter Budaj is expected to fill the role of the Kings number one goaltender until Quick returns. Goalie Cal Petersen was also recalled from the Ontario Reign of the American Hockey League to backup Budaj.

Interim head coach Willie Desjardins said that both netminders will see time in the net, but he also indicated that Budaj will see more ice time than Petersen.

“I think we’ll see both guys as we go forward,” said Desjardins. “Peter’s been around and he’s battled hard. He’s certainly going to get a chance. Cal coming in, I think it’ll help him to get a chance to see the game for a little bit and get comfortable.”

“Both guys will see some time and they’ve both waited for it,” added Desjardins. “This is their chance and it’s a good chance for them.”

“It’s definitely exciting, despite the circumstances,” said Petersen. “I’m really excited to be here and to have the opportunity to be up here with these guys—I’m going to try to make the most of it.”

Right after he got the good news, Petersen called home.

“I called my parents,” he beamed. “They were really excited. I think they were excited to get the call. They put in a lot of effort to get me to this point.”

“It was pretty simple,” he added. “I just told them the situation. I was smiling, obviously, [about] getting the opportunity. It was a proud moment for me, but also for them, because they put a lot of effort into it to let me have this opportunity. To be able to share it with them is equally special for me.”

The 24-year-old, 6-1, 185-pound native of Waterloo, Iowa was signed by the Kings as an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2017.

Coming into this season, the Kings considered Petersen to be their next one in goal. To learn more about Petersen and his development, check out LA Kings Think Cal Petersen Will Be Their Next Hot Goaltender Prospect.

After an outstanding 2017-18 season with the Reign, Petersen was backstopping a Reign team that has struggled mightily to this point in the 2018-19 AHL season, which was mostly expected, due to their youth and inexperience.

Those struggles are reflected in Petersen’s numbers: a 2–3-1 record with a 4.29 goals-against average and a .881 save percentage in ten regular season games, all very poor numbers for a goaltender. But in this case, they are not indicative of his’s play.

“We’ve all been on a team that has had struggles, at one time or another,” said Kings goaltender development coach Dusty Imoo. “[The Reign] are really going through a lot of changes. There’s been some blowout [losses] and on any given night, it can get kind of ugly. But he’s tried not to focus on numbers. Instead, he’s focused on just trying to lead the team and he’s done that.”

“[His maturity level is] coming up huge,” added Imoo. “This isn’t an uncommon scenario where you look great, but we seem like we’re on an island [in goal. Nevertheless], we’re very reliant on team play and sometimes, the numbers can make you look like a god, and at other times, they can make you look like a tool. But at the end of the day, Cal has managed to take this as a good learning experience, trying to lead the team even though his numbers are suffering. It’s about the team first and now, wham! [Campbell suffers an injury so he gets called up].”

“It’s definitely challenging,” said Petersen. “The thing that’s most frustrating is not winning, because that’s the most important thing. But [the Reign are] a little bit of a younger group. We knew, from the beginning, that there was going to be a learning curve. Every time you add a new pro, there’s guys moving up the ranks—it was a battle for me last year—[adjusting] to the pro game. There’s definitely guys in the locker room who are battling for the guys who are adjusting.”

Even though he was backstopping a struggling Reign team, Petersen has worked to keep his development on track.

“Working with Dusty, I’ve definitely become more consistent, day-by-day,” said Petersen. “One of the things he’s definitely been preaching is that it’s not always going to be perfect games. Sometimes, you have to battle through adversity. But if you keep the same mentality—getting better every day in practice and remembering the right things in games, that gives your team the best chance to win. That’s helped me out, in the long run, to put together the best product, night in and night out.”

“As far as his development is concerned, he’s doing really well,” said Imoo. “For people who haven’t seen what’s going on [with the Reign this season], they would be like, ‘how is that even possible?’ But that’s the truth. He’s improved in all facets. He’s worked on things that we’ve been focusing on and most importantly, this has been a really good challenge for him to stay positive.”

“I wasn’t super worried about him when I saw how the season was panning out down in Ontario,” added Imoo. “Every night is a crapshoot. I was wondering how he was going to handle that. But I was fairly confident that we could still, regardless of how it looks on the exterior, be able to push forward with him because of his demeanor, maturity and professionalism.”

As reported earlier, Imoo said that Petersen has improved in all facets of his game over the last year. But one facet stands out the most.

“It’s understanding his parameters—where he plays best, because he used to be very, very aggressive,” Imoo observed. “I love aggressive, but he’s just in more control now, as opposed to making a save by sliding way out of position. He’s just trying to be more controlled, understanding where he needs to be and to play. He’s understanding that a lot more.”

“This year, that’s been more of a challenge because stuff has been happening, like [defensive] breakdowns,” Imoo added. “That’s what has made it a real challenge for him. But he’s done a great job trying to maintain that, even though he’s had to sprawl around a bit, which can really wreak havoc on your game because you’re in battle mode all the time. But he’s done a good job with that.”

For Petersen, achieving a better balance between using his athleticism and technique is key.

“It’s having the balance of both,” said Imoo. “I love athletic goalies and I love guys who sometimes are all over the place, a little bit. I have no problem with that. It’s just learning to harness that, use it to your advantage and not become a liability.”

“Sometimes, guys can be really, really aggressive and good at making a big save here and there,” added Imoo. “But then they put themselves out of plays, they aren’t great with rebound control or ready to make second saves or clear rebounds. Stuff like that—selling the farm to make one save. Instead, when you have a good balance of both, that’s the perfect weapon.”

Petersen isn’t the perfect weapon in goal, at least, not yet, not after just one season at the professional level. But is he ready for prime time in the NHL?

“I can’t speak for everyone, but people have already asked me if I’m nervous or if he’s ready,” said Imoo. “I’m not. I’m an energetic type of nervous—excited for him. But I totally think he can handle it and I don’t even like to use the words, ‘handle it.’ I think he can do well, show that he belongs and take that next step.”

“It’s not the ideal or upbeat scenario in which he’s coming in—one of my closest guys [Campbell] is out,” added Imoo. “But that’s part of the game and he’s got to try to make the most of it.”

LEAD PHOTO: Los Angeles Kings goaltender prospect Cal Petersen. shown here during practice on November 23, 2018, at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, California. Photo: Gann Matsuda/

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